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Traditional Musical Instrument: The Indian Saraswati Veena

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The Saraswati veena is one of India’s oldest musical instruments. It is a large fretted lute that is named after the Goddess Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge and art. Often referred to as the “Queen of Instruments,” it is a predominant solo instrument in the Carnatic music, the main style of classical music in southern India, and distinct from the Hindustani music of the north. Since ancient times, music of the veena was thought to possess the power to purify the mind and uplift people’s consciousness into transcendent spiritual realms. Early depictions of the veena can be found in temples, great Vedic scriptures, and famous Hindu epics. Namely, the two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, both had references to it. The Goddess Saraswati is often depicted seated upon a swan playing a veena. Let’s hear a segment from a veena performance of the classic piece “Pibare Rama Rasam,” by Meera Sharma. The veena produces a full, warm tone with slightly buzzing and metallic qualities. Its design is said to be exceptional, because it allows for a complete classical solo recital. The four main strings, which are tuned to D sharp, A sharp, D sharp and A sharp, can produce melodic structures of improvisation over several octaves. The remaining three drone strings help to maintain the pitch and sustain a rhythmic beat. To play the veena, the musician sits cross-legged and holds the instrument slightly away at an angle. The large resonator lies on the floor near the player’s right leg while the small gourd rests on the player’s left thigh. The player’s left arm passes beneath the neck, curves upwards to manipulate the frets, and then presses on the strings to produce tones of different pitches. Also, the musician’s right palm sits at the edge of the top plank, and the index and middle fingers pluck the strings, while the little finger plays the drone strings. Let’s take a moment to enjoy a classical Indian and Western fusion cover of “The Classic Fuze,” arranged by Shrimati T Veena Gayatri Raj.
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